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Atkins strikes Olympic gold

Fort Macleod’s Christine Atkins last month added an Olympic gold medal to her collection.

Atkins was athletic therapist for the Canadian women’s hockey team that defeated the United States 3-2 in the gold medal game in Beijing, China.

“It hasn’t fully sunk in yet,” Atkins said in an interview. “This year was pretty amazing. We won both the World championships and Olympic championships. Our entire group has sacrificed and put a tremendous amount into these last couple of years and are so deserving of the success.”

Atkins previously won Olympic silver as an athletic therapist with the Canadian women’s hockey team in 2018 in South Korea.

Team Canada opened the 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 2 with a 12-1 win over Switzerland.

That started a winning streak that saw Canada beat Finland 11-1, Russia 6-1 and the United States 4-2 in preliminary round-robin.

Canada shut out Sweden 11-0 in the quarterfinals and beat Switzerland 10-3 in the semifinals.

That set up a gold medal match with the United States, who in 2018 beat Canada in the gold medal game.

In the gold medal game, the Canadians got first period goals from Sarah Nurse and Marie-Philip Poulin.

Poulin added another in the second period to make it 3-0, but the U.S. got one back by Hilary Knight late in the frame.

The teams were scoreless in a thrilling third period until the U.S. got a powerplay goal from Amanda Kessel with just 13 seconds to play.

christine atkins medal
Christine Atkins displays her gold medal following the game between Canada and the U.S.

Atkins said there was no panic on Team Canada’s bench even as the U.S. pulled closer.

“The feeling was calm, calm because we were prepared to be in any situation that might come our way,” Atkins said. “Even when we went on the penalty kill at the end of the game there was no panic. Everyone knew the role they needed to play, and they just did it.”

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games was a much different experience for Atkins and the Canadian team than what they experienced in South Korea in 2018.

The team was in a training bubble from January on due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We isolated in hotels away from our families and communities so we could safely train and complete together,” said Atkins, 39. “For the Olympics, once we left Calgary until we returned the end of February we were in the ‘closed loop.’ This meant our travel to and from Beijing was secure; only Canadians entering the games were permitted on the plane, everyone was fully vaccinated, and had multiple negative tests prior to boarding.”

Once the team was in the Olympic Village in Beijing, they could attend any of the competition venues provided they travelled on official Games transportation.

Everyone at the Winter Olympics — including athletes, staff, organizers, stakeholders and the more than 19,000 volunteers — lived in the ‘closed loop,” taking daily COVID tests, wearing masks unless eating or competing.

Team Canada was used to the COVID precautions, with similar ones in place at other competitions during the year leading up to the Winter Olympics.

“My work specifically didn’t have many restrictions,” said Atkins, a graduate of F.P. Walshe school in Fort Macleod who earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary and completed the athletic therapy program at Mount Royal University.

“It goes without saying, we always wore a mask, practiced proper hygiene, and monitored for any symptoms, I was able to fully complete my work at the Olympics because our entire group followed public health guidelines to ensure everyone was healthy.”

As athletic therapist Atkins is responsible for overseeing athlete health and safety, attending all games, practices, and training sessions and managing any injuries.

Atkins completes clinical treatment until the athlete has returned fully to off-ice training and into play.

The athletic therapists are on the bench during games to provide ready access should an athlete suffer an injury.

Although focused on her duties, Atkins couldn’t help but feel the emotion as the gold medal game wound down.

“As the game went on you could feel the energy and confidence building,” Atkins said. “We were pulling ahead on the scoreboard and we were executing our game plan. It was hard to just not be a spectator. But when the third period ended, we all erupted with emotion. And then to get to stand on the bench with our entire group and sing O Canada watching our flag being raised, that is something I will never forget.”

Atkins is enjoying a well-deserved vacation and time with fmaily at present but will return to working with athletes both clinically and in the field. Should the chance come up to be part of another Olympic Games, Atkins is ready for the challenge.

“I have been so fortunate with the opportunities I have had and love working in high performance so if an opportunity for another Olympics came up, I would take it.”

team canada
The gold medal champion Team Canada women’s hockey team.